Part one of a series…
Ross Cheit was sexually abused as a child by a camp counselor but Ross Cheit mentally blocked the entire experience from his mind until adulthood.
As an adult, while he was still repressing the abuse, Cheit read about Frank Fitzpatrick, who was sexually abused by Father James Porter. When Cheit read about Frank, and Porter’s other victims, the entire story annoyed Ross Cheit.
Cheit was asking himself why the accusations against the priest needed dredging up after thirty years.
Not long afterwards, Cheit subsequently realized the root of his irritation. He finally remembered being abused by camp counselor William Farmer.
Cheit’s annoyance at the public revelations over Father Porter was because he had not been ready to face his own childhood victimization.
Ross Cheit is a professor. He went public and now works hard to educate people on traumatic memory repression.
It’s not easy to bare the “dirty little secret.” There is a level of self-comfort for everyone involved that will be gone if the abuse is revealed. The code of silence is familiar, and speaking up means consequences.
Frank Fitzpatrick spoke repeatedly with other victims of Father Porter and tried to help them understand the importance of breaking the silence. Their personal denial is amazing. These are some of the responses that Frank received:
“I’ve put it all behind me now, although I do think about it every day.” “He’s married now so he wouldn’t be molesting children.” “You can’t fight city hall and you can’t fight the Catholic Church.” “I almost blew my brains out a couple of years ago, but I don’t think what Porter did to me really affected me.”
Truth is a challenge to live with and painful to stand by. The power of silence is strong, but speaking up can move mountains. There are a number of positive reasons for talking openly about being sexually abused:
- It ends the survivor’s participation in the secret.
- Society continues to be forced to pull its collective head out of the sand.
- The inner child is given the chance to finally say what was forbidden to talk about.
- It empowers other victims to do the same.
Silence allows evil to exist in comfort and protects the people who knew about the abuse but chose to do nothing, and silence shields the family denial system. However, I don’t recommend coming out with the truth until a survivor is strong and has a healthy support system, but when that time comes, it can liberate a person from a life-long burden.
Continuing to pretend that nothing happened can be taxing on the soul, and it can literally make someone sick to hold untold truths inside.
Revealing the truth to the perpetrator or biological family members will not magically heal someone in that moment, but it does begin to plow the road to freedom for their inner child.
I spoke of my memories because I grew tired of a false interaction with my mother. The artificial harmony was suffocating me. To speak the truth is to offer love to someone’s soul, and the human soul desires honesty. It’s the human ego/the self, that wants the silence and to go on without truth.
I was sick to my stomach before coming out with the truth, but I had to move past that wretched feeling and transform the guilt into energy that would help others. I knew I had to take my sword to the power of silence and slash the control it had over me.
Coming out with the truth was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but when we hide from our past, we lock a symbolic prison door on our true self, which is the part of us that does not like to talk about superficial subjects when the ugly truth still exists.
I know how difficult it is when a previous victim faces their biological family. A survivor can quickly react to family members as a child would. The child inside the adult survivor wants approval from family members, and will try to rationalize why it might be better to just keep quiet. This is usually a result of fear and established mental conditioning from long ago. The family’s power trains the victim to retain the idea that years of trauma, betrayal, or emotional abandonment can simply be brushed aside like hurtful name calling or when a friend disappoints us.
Child rape and molestation is allowed to permeate in a society where people who have influence over the survivor convince them to “let it go.” Those who tell survivors, “get over it” are people who don’t want to confront the issue.
Anyone who is comfortable with the lie will be made uncomfortable with the truth, and people who are uncomfortable with lies will be liberated by truth.
If we go through life fearing to cause discomfort in those who harm others, then the world will be run by people who injure and abuse children, animals, and our environment.
There are various reasons why a survivor might want to retain the secret.
Some people find themselves saying “He will just deny it anyway, so what’s the point?” Or, “Why stir things up that happened a long time ago?” These questions can arise because of subconscious guilt, or due to justifiable fear. Through prudent thought, a person has to figure out what’s going on inside themselves, because important decisions should not be made based in fear or guilt.
First, let’s address the fear. A number of survivors don’t feel safe enough to come out with their memories until the abuser has passed away. This is especially true when the perpetrator used death threats, which have tremendous power and place terror into the victim.
Threats can be so ingrained into a child and permeate their mind so severely that it stays with them well into adulthood. If the perpetrator is still alive they often maintain the secret with subtle or intimidating looks, or with verbal threats. Even if the abuser is dead, the threats can still keep a survivor from talking about what happened to them. Death threats are a serious form of mind control and the threat continues in the mind of the victim, even after the perpetrator is dead, or half way around the world.
Anyone who was threatened with death as a child and who is contemplating revealing their memories, could experience intense fear before exposing the secret. The fear can even be on a level similar to when the original threat took place.
Even when the adult survivor alerts siblings about the plan to speak openly, and if a sibling threatens the survivor to keep quiet, this can trigger the perpetrator’s original threat, “If you tell I will kill you.” Only now the words are, “Keep quiet or we’ll cut you out of the family.” The primordial terror is then re-experienced in the subconscious mind and the threat can be perceived by the survivor as life-endangering.
When the survivor combats that fear and discloses the secret anyway, this can be profoundly empowering. Fear might still be experienced afterwards for having defied the the family members, and subsequently, the perpetrator. The survivor might subconsciously wait for “punishment” by displaying anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms, but the act of exposing the secret can still bring tremendous gains. Old physical symptoms connected to the childhood death threats could even disappear. New emotional courage could develop and moving forward in life might become much easier. Fear and threats paralyze us.
Guilt, the other dragon, can also be a strong influence in deciding whether or not to expose family secrets, and this emotion can be powerful in some people. It plagued me like a virus for four decades. Silence dominated my family. Guilt was used as a tool of control which allowed a system of unwarranted guilt to ingrain itself in me.
If the abuser has died, guilt can result from exposing the criminal offenses of a person who has passed away. Family members might inflict criticism because they have the misconception that the deceased perpetrator has no one to defend them. Or they might say, “we shouldn’t speak negatively of the dead.” But the family members protect the perpetrator with their denial, and when the survivor was a child, they had no one to protect them and the abuser was defended by family silence.
Hypnotherapy helped me to alleviate most of my unjustified self-condemnation over talking about what happened to me, but I also needed to consciously overcome the guilt. This was accomplished in part by looking objectively at a child abuse incident that had been reported in the news.
A little girl’s brother had been sexually abusing her and the mother enabled it to continue for a long period of time. The brother was eventually caught, but before the girl was about to testify in court, her mother tried to kill her in order to keep the secret hidden.
Apparently the mother didn’t want to lose the extra income she received for having the boy in the home. Thankfully, the little girl survived. When my therapist asked me if I would ever tell that child to not talk about what happened to her, I immediately realized that expecting adult survivors to keep quiet is doing the same thing.
People who don’t care about justice, honesty or victims, and who only care about what is comfortable for themselves, are individuals that would ask that little girl to go on with her life without ever talking about her brother sexually abusing her, and that her mother tried to kill her.
Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse, Jennifer J. Freyd, Harvard University Press, 1996, page 6-7
Re-printed with permission by Frank Fitzpatrick via personal communication.